In part 1 of Five Common BI Problems, we examined the impact of having a lack of BI strategy and lack of BI readiness, which dealt more with preparing for BI success. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some of the problems that get in the way of achieving BI success.
Common BI Problem #3: Lack of Direction
It is common for organizations that have BI to have multiple data warehouses/data repositories/BI environments, multiple BI tool sets, and multiple user communities. And all those multiples are not necessarily bad. But sometimes they indicate a scattershot approach to BI: each department or business unit has its own BI undertaking, BI is accomplished via a number of uncoordinated projects, and everyone does his/her own thing when it comes to BI. Symptoms of uncoordinated BI include:
- The number you get depends upon whom you ask for it (because different people use different BI systems to obtain the number)
- Multiple data repositories contain the same data (such as customer orders), but that data doesn’t necessarily agree
- Multiple projects do essentially the same thing
- Multiple BI tools with similar functionality are in use
- It is unclear which BI projects get approved/funded and why
- Many BI projects are not completed on time and/or deliver reduced scope
Uncoordinated BI efforts indicate lack of direction. In many organizations, the initial venture into BI is by a single department of business unit working to solve a specific business problem, often with limited or no involvement by IT. As time goes by, several of these point BI solutions develop, resulting in multiple unintegrated BI systems, multiple data repositories, multiple BI tools, and so on. The risks of this approach continuing are several:
- Competing versions of the facts
- Duplicated cost/effort
- Incremental technical complexity and cost from multiple similar technologies in use
At some point in their BI evolution, most organizations reach the point where they need a coordinated, managed approach to BI. Such an approach is best guided by a BI strategy/roadmap and a BI data architecture plan.
Common BI Problem #4: Lack of Execution
An organization’s dissatisfaction with its BI progress often manifests as feedback from the BI user community like:
- It takes too long for the BI team to complete projects or even to fulfill requests for minor enhancements/modifications or new reports and dashboards
- BI applications are not easy to use, requiring lots of user knowledge of tools and data structures and/or lots of manual effort
- Reports and other output mechanisms often aren’t available when they are supposed to be, because the batch processing that updates them either didn’t finish on time or failed
- Query response time is slow. (We often hear from client users that queries take 15 to 30 minutes to an hour to run.)
- It is difficult to determine which/how reports and other output mechanisms satisfy users’ stated requirements. Reconciling what the BI team delivered versus what users asked for is problematic.
- It is not transparent to users how the metrics and other results delivered by BI were calculated and/or to tie them to official results and systems of record
- BI projects either don’t deliver all of the functionality they promised, or their scope continually creeps (expands) and they never quite completely finish
Feedback like this is extremely common (see our research on how companies use BI) and is symptomatic of a lack of execution problem. The company might have well-articulated requirements, a sound BI strategy, and a good tool set, but it is not good at designing, building, maintaining, and supporting BI applications. The result – as evidenced by the user feedback above – is BI applications that run slowly, break frequently, are hard to use, deliver uncertain results, take longer to build and cost more than they should.
The causes of lack of execution often are multiple and varied, as are its remedies. Successful, repeatable BI execution depends requires these capabilities:
- Sufficient funding
- Executive support
- Sustained involvement in BI projects by the right business representatives
- Use of a BI-specific development methodology
- The right number of staff – which could be company employees or external – with the necessary BI skills
- Project management skills and discipline
- Change management skills
Common BI Problem # 5: Lack of BI Impact
In the fifth common BI problem, we see an all-too-common scenario: the organization has invested in BI, and has one or more BI applications in place. But it’s unclear exactly how the business benefits from having BI. There is low utilization of deployed BI applications; in fact, some might not be being used at all.
We continually are surprised when we go into a new client how frequently it has a BI application that was developed and implemented with good intentions, but no one wound up using it. The application continues to run in production, with the data being updated every night in batch and new reports generated, but no one can tell us who logs into the application or looks at its output.
Even if the BI application is being used, when we ask the question, “What business results are better as a result of the information this application provides?” all we get are blank looks. Key decision-makers in the business do not use information from this system and might not even be aware that it exists; moreover, they have unmet needs for information, are not satisfied with what investments in BI have yielded the organization, and therefore are reluctant to approve any additional funding for BI. (They might even want to pull the funding it already has, and redeploy that budget somewhere else.)
- Business value of BI investments not captured
- Low utilization of deployed BI
- No change in business results attributable to BI
- Unsatisfied business users
- BI funding in jeopardy
indicate lack of BI impact. The organization has BI, but the questions “Who cares?” and “How does having BI matter?” don’t have clear answers.
It can be difficult to recover BI impact after the fact (i.e., after the BI application already is designed, built, and in production). While the business benefits of BI lag the implementation of a BI application – because the information it provides must then be used by the business to make more informed decisions, which lead to better business results – the time to “engineer-in” those business benefits is at the very beginning of the system development lifecycle. The requirements-gathering process for BI should explicitly link requirements for information to the business process(es) in which that information will be used, how it will be used, who will use it, and which KPIs and/or strategic objectives will be advanced by it.
Conclusion: Done Right, BI can have a Major Profit Impact
This recitation of common BI problems might cause you to lose heart and doubt the value of business intelligence. Don’t be discouraged. Yes, BI can be challenging to do well, but the potential business benefits make it worth the effort. And the good news is that the common problems we have discussed have solutions proven through successful application in many organizations. These solutions include:
- Treatment of BI as a business and profit improvement initiative rather than an IT-centric undertaking
- Focus on supporting key business objectives with better information embedded in specific business processes
- Use of a BI-specific development methodology, such as DecisionPath’s BI Pathway method
Many organizations don’t possess the internal BI expertise necessary to recognize their BI challenges and leverage these solutions to prevent and overcome them, but with solid strategy and guidance, organizations can harness the power of BI for improved business results and demonstrable business value.